'Too many schools that are their own admission authority do not comply fully with Admission Code,' says OSA chief
‘…too many schools that are their own admission authority do not comply fully with what are relatively modest requirements,’ said Dr Elizabeth Passmore, Chief Schools Adjudicator, in her Annual Report. She was referring to the deadline by which schools which are their own admission authorities - academies, foundation and Voluntary Aided schools (OAA schools) - must publish their determined admission criteria. OAA schools should determine and publish their admission criteria by 28 February. Dr Passmore said there had been ‘some progress’ in ensuring OAA schools complied but too many didn’t. She recommended the Department for Education (DfE) send reminders. Newly-converted academies should be told about their responsibilities (something schools should surely have considered before converting - if new academies aren't aware of Admission Code obligations then doubt is cast on their ability to adhere to other legal requirements). Dr Passmore found admission criteria to school’s sixth forms ‘frequently’ contravened the Code. She recommended the DfE consider whether the entire Code should apply to sixth forms, whether flexibility should be allowed or whether ‘some other process’ should be used which would bring school sixth forms into line with post-16 education providers. The admission criteria for some OAA schools were ‘unnecessarily complex’. They reduced the ability of parents to assess how likely their child would gain a place. Dr Passmore recommended the DfE provide exemplar admission arrangements. Guidance given to faith schools by religious representatives was of variable quality. Some were clear, accurate and up-to-date but much was not. The DfE should provide guidance, Dr Passmore recommended. The Admission Code allows anybody to object to admission criteria. Dr Passmore thought the right to object had been used by ‘pressure groups and individuals’ to influence general policies. She recommended the DfE consider limiting the right to ‘those with proper standing for making the objection’. The term ‘proper standing’ is undefined but seems to apply just to parents who might be considering applying for a place or local authorities. The Admission Code is legally binding. Restricting objections to those with ‘proper standing’ is like saying only victims can report a crime and non-victims who have evidence a crime has taken place should be disregarded. This restriction would allow even more OAA schools to flout the Code. Parents aren’t experts on the Code and may not recognise unfair criteria. And it takes time, effort and expertise to object. Parents often blamed local authorities for matters beyond LA control, Dr Passmore wrote. LAs coordinated applications to most schools in their areas but difficulties were caused when OAA schools didn’t publish criteria in a ‘timely manner’, by late increases in the Published Admission Number in OAA schools or where new free schools had no signed funding agreement. LAs can’t offer places in schools which don’t legally exist. There was an increased tendency for OAA schools to employ lawyers to fight objections. This ‘surprised and concerned’ Dr Passmore. ‘Schools should be able to construct lawful arrangements without recourse to legal advice’, she wrote. It could be argued, although Dr Passmore does not say this, that bringing in lawyers when the Code is clear enough to be easily understood is a waste of taxpayers’ money.